One Republican senator is worried that Atlanta’s efforts in hosting the Super Bowl could be hampered by the partial government shutdown if the stalemate in Washington continues into next month.
“We’ve got a Super Bowl coming to Atlanta, Ga., in about three weeks. The biggest tourism event in the world this year," Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) said on the Senate floor this week. “What if the largest airport in the world, that’s going to bring people to the largest football game in the world, goes out of business because the TSA strikes?
“Then you’ve just cost millions of dollars to the United States of America, my home city of Atlanta, and others,” Isakson added.
A spokesperson for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport told Reuters that the hub expects to see an additional 125,000 passengers ahead of the Feb. 3 game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The spokesperson also said the airport had hired additional contract security to help with the increased traffic during the period surrounding the Super Bowl. She said the airport typically handles about 270,000 passengers a day.
Dan McCabe, a National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative, told NBC News that the government shutdown has already resulted in canceled planning meetings for the Super Bowl, which he anticipates will bring 1,500 additional flights a day during the week of the game.
“As soon as the shutdown happened, these meetings stopped happening,” McCabe said. “When we work on something as big as the Super Bowl — the biggest spectator event in the country — it takes us a lot of time to plan on extra airplanes and traffic."
Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world in passenger traffic, and has been hit hard by staffing shortages among TSA agents, who are among the roughly 400,000 federal employees working without pay since the shutdown began Dec. 22. About 800,000 federal employees aren’t being paid due to the government shutdown.
On Monday, the first business day after employees missed their first paycheck, checkpoint lines stretched for two hours due to the closure of six security lanes at domestic terminals, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Absentee rates have soared among airport screeners this week. The TSA reported a national absence rate of 7.6 percent on Monday, compared with 3.2 percent on a comparable day last year. On Tuesday, the absence rate remained high at 6.1 percent, according to the TSA.
“Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the TSA said on Wednesday.
Air traffic controllers in Atlanta and elsewhere have also been negatively impacted by the shutdown, being forced to work long hours without pay. Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the controllers association, warned that many had turned to other jobs, such as driving for Uber before and after their shift, to make ends meet.
“I would say it is less safe today than it was a month ago, absolutely,” Gilbert said on CNN. “We are working with bare-bones crews. We have controllers there doing what they do very, very well, but how long can you expect them to do it without all of the systems behind them to keep the system safe and the planes in the air?”
Air traffic controllers who work at airports in Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Atlantic City passed out fliers to passengers at Philadelphia International Airport on Wednesday, calling for an immediate end to the shutdown and asking travelers to call their members of Congress to put pressure on them to reach a deal to get federal employees back to work. In Philadelphia, 80 NATCA members — most of whom are air traffic controllers — are working without pay, while four have been furloughed.
“Everything is a mess here. No one knows who is open, who is working, or what terminals are functioning,” one federal air traffic controller, who has worked out of Atlanta for 10 years, told the Daily Beast. “It’s a total [expletive] that won’t be solved until the shutdown is over.”
As he made his way through Atlanta’s airport on his way to Washington on Tuesday, Isakson said, he was unable to offer an explanation to his constituents — including several TSA workers — why the government remained closed.
“We’re just doing the wrong thing, punishing the wrong people, and it’s not right,” the senator said.